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LIKE a red-faced college student begging his mother not to show visitors the embarrassing old family photos, General Motors would like you to forget its early attempts at car-based crossover utility vehicles. Imagine the company wincing on the sofa as you chuckle your way through G.M.’s picture albums from the ’90s, filled with snapshots of the Pontiac Aztek and Buick Rendezvous — the vehicular equivalent of acne and braces, velour dickies and the mullet.

But after years of failing grades on the crossover exams — aced by some imports — G.M. retreated to study the segment, do its homework and cram for the biggest test yet. Crossovers are the nation’s fastest-growing class of cars or trucks.

The company has sworn off minivans entirely. It has even begun to ditch some of its old-school truck-based S.U.V.’s, like the Chevrolet TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy, that went from top sellers to bottom dwellers faster than you can say “Fill ’er up.”

With car-based crossovers outselling traditional sport utilities for the first time in 2006, American families have made it clear that the former are their preferred form of transport. Compared with S.U.V.’s, these types of tall wagons give up some towing capacity and some ground clearance for off-road use, but their advantages in handling, ride, gas mileage and refinement seem to outweigh those drawbacks for many people.

Haulers like the Honda Pilot are also providing not just shelter, but cover, and this is part of their appeal. They offer people the roomy all-wheel-drive trucks they never stopped wanting, while largely evading the wrath of the anti-S.U.V. brigades.

G.M.’s impressive new Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia reflect this fresh face for the family wagon. They are stylish and well-mannered, with nary a whiff of truck-stop mountain-man aggression. Yet this largely similar pair does maintain one Detroit truck tradition: they are the longest, widest and roomiest vehicles in their class, with three honest-to-goodness rows and seating for seven or eight passengers.

A week spent in each model showed the Acadia and Outlook to be competitive in virtually every respect with a pair of benchmarks, the Pilot and Toyota Highlander. And since the G.M. siblings performed as well — and in some areas, better — buyers who put a premium on passenger and cargo space may give them the edge.

By early summer, the Acadia and Outlook will be joined by the Buick Enclave, a more luxurious model with the same structure, which G.M. calls the Lambda architecture.

The Acadia and Outlook differ mainly in their exterior styling and interior trim. With a single exhaust outlet, the base model Saturn, the Outlook XE, does have five less horsepower than other versions, but that’s about it: engine, steering, brakes, suspension tuning and cabin layout, it’s all the same. Both the GMC and Saturn offer a choice of front- or all-wheel drive.

In effect, all buyers have to do is decide which version they like better. I leaned toward the GMC, which struck me as a bit more tailored and masculine; my wife said the Saturn looked sleeker and more expensive. (Both seem more stylish and up to date than the boxy Pilot and Highlander.)

In fact, it’s the Saturn that costs about $2,000 less across the board for reasons not really explained by the features it comes with. The front-drive Saturn XE starts at $27,990; the price rises to $32,990 for the front-drive XR. For any Outlook or Acadia, add $2,000 for all-wheel-drive.

The pricier GMC starts at $29,990 for the front-drive base model, and the base price peaks at $38,095 for the plushest version of the SLT-2 model with all-wheel drive.

I started my test with an Acadia SLT-1, the midrange GMC that is likely to be the bread-and-butter version in dealerships. It starts at $33,990, or $35,990 for my all-wheel-drive version.

My first trip was a shopping run to the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, where the Acadia swallowed a cartful of groceries without even folding the third-row seat. No surprise, since the GMC measures only an inch less, bumper to bumper, than the hulking Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon; it is nearly as wide as well, but about four inches shorter. Compared with many high-riding S.U.V.’s, getting in and out poses little challenge to short people.

The Acadia is also a full foot longer than a Pilot and six inches wider than a Highlander, and it rides on a wheelbase a foot longer than either. That generous footprint creates a notably space-efficient interior. Each model is smartly styled inside as well, with handsome gauges and control panels, useful storage and an airy, inviting look.

At last, G.M. has started to nail the details that mean a lot in owner satisfaction. The gaps between panels are tight and the switches feel solid. The glovebox doors are actually damped, instead of whanging you in the knees when you open them.

Still, there are a few demerits: G.M.’s evergreen windshield-washer stalk still operates with an awkward twist of the wrist. And the company’s secret contract with Cheap Plastic Inc. may not be over yet: the Acadia’s interior driver door handle, that critical hands-on interface between man and machine, was unpleasantly sharp and finished in bogus chrome.

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